Chapter 80. Stumbling Homewards
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Herr Munchausen ends up calling up his wife Edna and Adolph, who turns out to be his eldest and tells them that Verwaand was "dealt with", while having them sit with us while he pours out a bottle of wine into glasses.

"To Kristoff's memory, may he rest in peace." - he proclaims somberly, lifting the glass. Everyone drinks. Oh, that's right, you don't clink glasses when it's wake. Fair enough.

The rest of the visit is scattered. While I obviously can't promise anything right now, I do drop enough hints in Gustaf's ear to be sure he is ready to take advantage of opening roads. He gets his own copperphone, ostensibly so that he could keep in touch with Bridgit, but also as a convenient way for me to let him know about the advances in roadbuilding, so that his own faction could jump up on the opportunity ahead of sea traders. This is going to piss off Klaus, most likely, but his hands are tied. I very much doubt he's stupid enough to try for second assassination given how the repercussions of first are still shaking things up ten years later.

But, seeing as it is still early, I take the opportunity to take Bridgit out on a low-key date and stroll around Berlinger. No specific goal in mind, just checking the sights. We had a spot of tea with some local treats in a small tavern not far from the castle. This area seems to be developed as something my old world would term as "tourist promenade" - wide street, lots of shops, parks, street vendors... Nice place, overall. But, of course, there is always something about to happen to, ah... "color up the experience". Namely, we run into Falstaff.

We were just sitting in the park, getting a breather from all that walking (and exchanging a few discreet kisses, but who's watching?) when someone clears their throat from behind the shrubbery. Lo and behold, it's the lech, standing in the middle of damn lawn and grinning like he just saw something titillating.

"Well, that certainly explains why I shouldn't have bothered." - he offers. Wonder what's next. If he segues it into some sort of blackmail, there's going to be... an incident. Or accident.

"Aaaand?" - I drawl, waiting for him to get to the point of it.

Surprisingly enough, he raises both hands in a placating gesture. "Nothing, nothing, my fair lady." - he retorts - "As a fellow connoisseur of fine women, I completely understand. And that's a very fine woman you have there, jungfrau Gillespie. I'd proffer my credentials as an experienced ladies' man, but if I'm seeing this right, no men need apply, right?"

"Essentially right." - I allow. Not sure if he's serious or not, but him adhering to some kind of casanova honor code isn't that odd, considering the overall circumstances.

He lifts his hat and bows slightly. "A pity, but a man's gotta know his limits." - he proffers amiably - "Have a nice day, ladies. As for me, the brothel beckons. Today's definitely a good day for a double." And with that, he turns around and walks off, whistling. Huh.

"What a lech." - Bridgit whispers - "Mistress, there's something wrong with the world when a man like him has more gallantry then some princes I can think of."

Back in the palace, I find out something stupid. Namely, that even the people who had the chance of see me work, including Abe, Hiram and dad, all expect I'd be taking it slow and maybe turn something up about the valley in a month. Which is absolutely NOT good for me, but apparently there's simply no way for Kraut to "muster the workforce" any sooner. Never-fucking-mind I'm already taking samples and mapping out the course. Speaking of which... Klaus for once was entirely honest. There is a deep bowl-like crater utterly filled with ash that makes traversing the last stretch to Kraut unfeasible. The crater is wider then it is deep, but seems to be dipping under the cliffs at the sides, so there might be more ash then I expected. Ash itself is pretty good, however, it's a mix of pumice and pozzolanic ash that probably needs just a bit of quicklime and water to become concrete.

I bring back a bucket of this to Academy. In the sky above Berlinger, the airship spools the engines and turns back, all of delegation abroad. This time, the plan is to travel to the Parsee first, let off Abe, Hiram, Rafiqa and van der Klaases, then swing by Haver so dad could do his business there (He and Dantes have some kind of on-going business deal plodding on. I think Dantes is the local expertise, while dad is the big scary stick to intimidate the local nobles into complying with road building. I was about to look into the issue myself, but dad said not to worry, he'll handle it. I guess I can let that be.) and finish the trip at the estate. Maybe take family on a bit of air stroll, then back to Parsee with the ship.

That being handled, I leave my instance on the ship largely on autopilot, citing the need to concentrate on piloting the ship (it's conveniently cloudy, and they completely buy my excuse). So, what to do now? Academy? Nothing to do there. Girls are busy with their homework for once, and I'm not really keen on interrupting unless they ask for it. So I step out to see who else is around. Newspaper trio are moderately busy, so they can not hang out, but they gratefully accept the news that the delegation is to return today. I'm sure Abe will have his own press release for them once he is back in the castle. If not, I can always prod him to make one. People tend to trust government more if government is willing to talk to them, after all.

In the library, I locate Lemand... And he is amenable to conversation. More then a little amenable, actually, as he seems to perk up as soon as I come in.

"Lady Gillespie, what luck. I was about to send you a note." - he offers - "Would you happen to have some time for scholarly discussion? I find myself in need of your indispensable insight."

I pull out a chair and sit across the table from him. "Sure thing, Lemand. I have time right now. What's on your mind?" - I tell him - "Oh, dispense with lady Gillespie already. Just call me Alyssa."

He scratches the back of his head. "I wouldn't want to presume, but if that's your will..." - he hedges - "Alyssa, I find myself in a bind. You see, I have developed a promising enchantment scheme that, I'm confident, would sell well, but my father remains regrettably dismissive of my scholarly findings."

He passes a letter to me, and shrugs helplessly. I scan through it, and.. well. Let's just say that Lemarchand Senior had reacted to his son's findings by admonishing him for "pursuing witless endeavors" and recommended Lemand "leave your worthless manuscripts alone and go practice your fencing as befits of a man".

"Lemand, no offense, but your father is a halfwit." - I tell him bluntly, and he heaves a sigh.

"I wish it was a slight, Alyssa, but the sad fact is, it is but unvarnished truth. I am already facing reduction in my finances. I fear if I fail to show any, ahem, 'knightly improvements', I will have to resign from the Academy and seek some manner of employment to sustain myself." - he admits - "I am at my wits end. Nothing I do pleases him, all that he wants to see in me is but muscle."

"Well that just won't do." - I object - "How about I hire you as a scholar? You can tell your father to stick his swords where the sun doesn't shine. If he lacks the foresight to garner your profits, I certainly will."

"But... What good to you would I be?" - he retorts feebly - "Next to your brilliance, I'm but a guttering candle."

"Lemand, I can't and won't do everything on my own. There's myriads of things that require my attention." - I tell him - "You just said you invented a scheme that promises profit. That means you made something I'm not selling already. Which means it's something I didn't consider. My interests are primarily directed towards alchemy and mass production. I have no qualms financing research in high magic, and you are doing rather well on that front."

"If you think so..." - he says uncertainly.

"Out of curiosity. How much does your father give you for your living expenses right now?" - I inquire.

Lemand groans. "I have received hundred golds on my departure to Academy and an assurance that I've to receive no more until the next summer." - he admits. It's... kind of lacking. It means he has to live on ten golds per month, more or less. Which is feasible, but not particularly cushy. Bridgit earns more then that as my maid.

"Right. Here's my offer, then." - I tell him as I lay down a pendant with Gillespie crest - "I'll cover your education here entirely. Hundred gold research fund each month, I know reagents and manuscripts are not cheap. A gold per day for your personal expenses. Any findings you make, you can present to me, and if I agree they're marketable, I put them into production. You get tithe from each profit coming out of your findings."

He blinks at me. "That... is extremely generous of you, Alyssa." - he then offers - "I'm not sure I'm worth that much."

"Oh, don't sell yourself short." - I object - "Besides, there are conditions to my offer. You might want I'm not quite as generous once you hear them."

"Well, might as well hear you out." - he retorts - "Somehow, given what I know about you, I find it dubious your conditions would be worse then my father's demands."

"Well, basically, Lemand, I am going to give you scholar work on top of your independent research. Things I want to develop but don't have the time to sort each one in detail." - I explain - "I will give you an outline of the area I want researched and point out specific things I want you to concentrate on. Once you flesh out the generic theory and have working prototypes of specific requests, you will compile your findings into a book. Requests will go into production, with tithe of profits coming your way, the book will be copied and distributed to several libraries, including Academy one. You'll get a copy of each for your personal library, of course."

He blinks at me. Again. Then asks, wryly - "Let me get this straight. You want to give me research topics, finance that research and publish my findings in a number of books which will be put into libraries perused by best and brightest all over Champagne? Well, when you put it that way, it certainly sounds like OH GODS WHEN DO I SIGN UP?"

"Today, Lemand. Today." - I reply with a chuckle - "Simply put on that medallion. I will have initial funds and paperwork delivered to your room tomorrow. You have a grace period until the start of winter to figure out your independent research plans, write up a schedule for independent and contracted work which we will go over and sort out your fiscal obligations. Oh, and maybe write a scalding letter to your daddums, if you feel up to it. Remember, if he shows up to try and, ahem, 'discipline' you, he will have to appeal to me for permission to do so, and I am not in any way interested in letting some meathead mistreat my valuable retainer."

"Please don't kill him or humiliate him so badly he ends his own life, that's all I ask." - he retorts - "You have my blessings to smack him around like a red-headed stepson, otherwise."

"Yowch. You really have beef with your dad, don't you?" - I shake my head - "Well, if he elects to be stupid, I do solemnly promise to make it an unforgettable experience for him."

Lemand sighs. "Lady... Alyssa." - he offers tiredly - "Imagine growing up and being told by every single person OTHER then my family that I am brilliant and have bright future ahead of me. And then imagine my family scoffing at that, regardless of who's opinion it is. I have had enchanted an array that soothes the weather across the whole viscounty, bringing up our annual harvests a full quarter above, and all I've got for it from my father is a lecture on throwing away money on 'wizardly boondoggles'. I'm DONE trying to impress my father, he has no appreciation for magical arts or scholars, and I find myself long tapped out of any lingering family loyalty. And that is not even counting what happened to mother.... No, I beg your pardon. I should not vent my bile like this."

"What happened to your mother?" - I ask immediately. This is not touched on in the game at all, Lemand's mother might as well not exist as far as game was concerned, and I'm very curious.

"Consumption." - he answers curtly. Huh. If memory serves me right, that's how they called tuberculosis in medieval times.

"But she's still alive?" - I inquire. Generally speaking, at the current stage of medical knowledge, there is no known cure for this disease. But, the disease itself can easily take several years or even decades to kill the patient, depending on the level of care offered.

"She is, though not through father's merits." - Lemand retorts angrily - "When it became known mother fell sick, father demanded of her to return to her parents. According to him, he was 'deceived' about her strength. According to me, well... I strongly suspect mother had fallen ill because of father's idiotic insistence on toughing out everything and anything. He refused to call doctors or let her rest when she complained about fatigue."

Hm. That... sounds promising. "Change of plans, Lemand." - I tell him sharply - "Pack for a quick trip to your mother's whereabouts. We depart tomorrow. You'll sign your contract on the airship. Once we're there... You will get your first big project from me. Documenting and working out the generic principles of it, based on practical experience."

"...Beg your pardon, but practical experience of what, Alyssa?" - he asks, his expression gradually becoming more and more alarmed as he figures out the answer in the process of asking the question.

"Curing consumption, of course." - I helpfully confirm.